"It is always tough in the conference, and it is always tough here," said UGA coach Andy Landers. "Other than the zone early in the game, we defended well in the first half, and we defended and rebounded well in the second half. (Cori) Chambers did very well, and (Tasha) Humphrey in the second half did a good job of passing the ball."
The two teams played evenly in the first half with MSU. UGA took an early 7-0 lead in the first three minutes of the game before MSU answered with a Tysheka Grimes jumper, followed by a Marneshia Richard lay-up. When Alexis Rack nailed a trey, MSU was within a point at 11-10 five minutes into the game. Rack and Richard led MSU in scoring 14 and 13 points, respectively.
Angel Robinson answered with a jumper, but Rack answered with a pair of three's to give MSU a 19-13 lead with 12:27 left in the first half. That was the first of three times MSU held a three-point lead on their opponent for their biggest lead of the game.
"Rack's three-point shooting was the reason we got out of the zone," Landers admitted. "She hit four on us within about four or five minutes of each other. I am not surprised that Rack did not come out in the second half, because one kid is great against a zone and one is great against the man."
"We got a big lead and it gave us a lot energy," Fanning said. "But then they went to man-to-man and you have to execute there. We did not get to a one-and-one situation until a minute left in the half, which means we are not taking the ball at them like we should. We have to play offense with that extra cut or extra screen to make things happen offensively, which means we need to be a little more patient on offense."
With 37 seconds left in the first half, Richard made a pair of free throws giving MSU a 35-33 lead. It was their last lead of the game. Chambers scored the final five points of the first half in the final 14 seconds on a pair of free throws and a trey to give UGA a 38-35 as the teams headed to the dressing room. Coming into the game, Chambers led UGA scoring an average of 15.7 points per game. On this night, she would have a season-high 28 points, which is one point below her career high.
"We know she could drill the three," Fanning said. "We are supposed to switch on all handoffs. You must communicate on those transitions and we did not do that well in the first half. We knew off their screens, she takes two dribbles and shoots her jump shot. You want to challenge every one of those. When you know what somebody is going to do, you have to guard it. That is easy to say but you must communicate and work hard together to be successful."
UGA opened with a 13-4 run over the first five minutes of the second half. Fanning inserted Amy Reeder into the game. She seemed to be the catalyst State needed. MSU went on an 11-3 spurt to get as close as 54-50 with 12:41 left in the game. During that three-minute span, MSU forced three turnovers coupled with a pair of steals and assists.
After UGA called a time-out, Richard stole the in-bound pass and drove the ball for an easy lay-up to get MSU to within four at 54-50. That was as close as State could get. UGA mounted their 9-0 run and held MSU scoreless for the next seven minutes. For all practical purposes they won the game in this stretch. With 6:44 left, Chambers nailed a three, giving UGA a 63-50 win. The 13-point margin was also the margin when the clock read 0:00.
"We missed a free throw and a lay-up," Fanning explained. "We had some open shots that we did not hit and we also made too many turnovers in the second half. We have to make better decisions with the basketball. We did not have what it takes to win in a 40-minute ball game, especially against this Georgia team. We didn't do our job and it showed in the final outcome of the game."
While MSU struggled offensively, Imesia Jackson's defense stymied Tasha Humphrey. who was held to just two points over the first 37 minutes of the contest. Humphrey came into the game averaging 14.5 points a game. Humphrey finished the game with six points. But Jackson, who leads MSU in scoring 12.3 points a game, was held to eight. That is the fourth time in the last five games the MSU junior did not reach double digits.
"She is still learning to understand positioning," Fanning said. "When we played Arkansas, she would get too high and was still posting when she needed to spin. Tonight she would get caught too low. When you do that you end up shooting into somebody's hands. She needs to understand spacing better. We have to work on her passing from inside outside. Also, we need to improve on all of our 'read and react' skills on offense. You have to be aware of what the defense is going to do and where your teammates are. She goes hard to the ball every time. She scored once in the first half on an up-and-under move. She has to get better with her counter attack and I think she will improve on that as we continue to work on it in practice."
The two teams played to their scoring averages. MSU came into the game scoring 64.3 points (37.8% shooting percentage). They scored 61 points (38.3% from the field). Meanwhile, UGA came into this game scoring 75.6 points (46.7% shooting percentage). They scored 74 points, and shot 42.6% from the field.
Georgia's height advantage showed up in a 45-39 rebounding advantage. Humphrey led UGA with nine rebounds, while Bethany Washington led MSU with nine rebounds.
Before leaving the media room, Fanning made a plea to the media and the fans.
"We need some help to get more people in the stands," Fanning said. There were 468 people in attendance Thursday night. "This was a better basketball game than we had with the turnout. It was too good a game to have this few people here. These kids are young but we are going to win. Having a good crowd here will help us."
MSU hosts No. 5 LSU (15-2, 1-1 SEC) on Sunday at 2:00 p.m. The Lady Tigers dropped a 77-74 decision at Tad Smith Coliseum on Thursday. That halted their 10-game winning streak.
Andy Kalinowski, known on the internet as Andy K, writes about Mississippi State women's basketball for the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website. He can be reached by email at Andy_Kalinowski@yahoo.com.